Foreign exchange students Kirsti Walstad, 18 and from Norway, and Philipp Leibundgut, 17 and from Switzerland, arrived in America for the school year expecting everything to be big — and it was.
Big trucks, big houses, big portions, and big malls fulfilled their American expectations, and added to the shock of living in a small town.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come was to check out how it really was,” said Walstad. She is from Trondheim, roughly 310 miles from the Polar Circle, and population 150,000. However, the city enjoys four seasons, Walstad added.
“Of course we have snow in the winter,” she said, but not in the summer.
Leibundgut, who arrived in Payson from Bern, population 127,000 in the city proper, speaks Swiss German.
Both started English early on. In Switzerland, Leibundgut said he started English in eighth-grade, but students begin other languages like French or Italian in fourth-grade.
In Switzerland alone, people speak French, German or Italian as a primary language depending upon which area they live.
However, the Swiss learn British English. “The American accent is really different,” Leibundgut said. “When I first came here, I couldn’t understand.”
In Norway, Walstad said English instruction begins in second-grade, with words hung up around the classroom. The word “door” on the door, for instance. Later in a student’s educational career, they can choose other languages like Italian, Spanish, German or French.
The two students came to America through EF Foundation for Foreign Study. The local coordinator is Edith Miller, and families interested in finding more information about the program can contact her at (928) 476-4871.
EF operates worldwide, but has an American office in Boston. Four of Walstad’s friends also opted for American travel through EF. One went to Oregon, one to Mesa, another to New Hampshire and one to Tennessee.
“Everybody’s pretty happy so we’re not jealous or anything,” Walstad said. Leibundgut said he had friends in Seattle and Canada, though not everyone traveled through EF.
Cultural differences abound. In Norway, people more readily talk about topics like birth control and intercourse because they are less taboo than in the States, Walstad said.
The drinking ages are also younger in both Norway and Switzerland, 18 and 16 respectively.
Walstad turned 18 in America, which in Norway, is the equivalent of an American turning 21.
Guns are also less common. “I (had) never seen a gun in my whole life,” Walstad said. Fewer police patrol the streets. “If I see a cop car, I know immediately something is wrong.”
American punishments are also different. Walstad said, “where you can get grounded? We don’t have that.”
“I have to clean the toilet,” Leibundgut said about Swiss penalties.
Every Swiss male must spend roughly one year in the Army, but as Leibundgut said, “We have never gotten into a war.” At least not in modern times.
Recreational pursuits present more commonality. Leibundgut, who plays in a jazz band, spends his weekends in Switzerland playing concerts. Walstad said she enjoys going to parties with friends, which her parents don’t mind as long as she tells them where she is going and when she will come home.